Class teacher... In the midst of primary school
Looking back, if I consider the course of my career as a photographer, I have to admit it has been different if not to say extraordinary. Filled with opportunities and exceptional encounters plus a readiness & willingness to work, I have had the privilege, as someone self taught, to exercise this profession with passion on a daily basis. Whatever the demands of successive employers or my personal projects I have been in a position to observe and take photographs from many situations. Ranging from armed conflict abroad when I was soldiering, Heads of State, Kings and other personalities when I became official photographer for the French President, evidently a wide range of subjects was opened up to me. Despite the variety and originality of many of the reports I covered, I was always attracted by natural things. By natural, I think of children and the child that sleeps inside us all. This made me ask myself what subject I should choose as the theme for this book and after much thought my mind, due largely to my meeting with passionate primary teacher Nathalie Lafont, came to rest on « les petits », the little children. Obvious really when one is called Klein (which means short in German !) Not only that, these children are the future of a country, the breath of a nation. They haven’t the chance to express themselves as adults do and even when a problem arises their opinions are seldom taken into consideration. We never give children an important enough place in our everyday lives. However I still needed to define the angle to take in my report to find a base for this project, a place... Obviously it should start at the « heart » of primary school.
Primary school, a delicate subject ! Clearly I am not a specialist in this field but no matter, with my curiosity the investigation will be worth it ! I shall roll up my sleeves and apply myself objectively that will be my motivation. All these moments, these days passed with this group of young scholars, I have slipped into their school lives to illustrate them with my photographs. I hope also that I can bring to the forefront the fundamental and universal values bestowed by schools in France. They are perceptible at the heart of all families. Who is there who cannot remember their debut behind a school desk, their learning, difficult or not, multiplication tables, conjugation, playtime always too short, sharing break-time snacks and school outings ?
When I arrived at Notre Dame de Villeneuve d’Aveyron to meet the teaching staff I was warmly welcomed. My children had left primary school behind several years before, therefore I gradually rediscovered the organization of classes, the canteen and all the infrastructure and most impressive of all the amount and variety of subjects to be covered. In an effort to be as lucid as possible in this project and to clearly show the progression made in school, I decided to follow the school year based on the four seasons. Apart from the poetic touch this gives I thought it essential as a measure of time passing. It is with this altruistic regard, candid but sincere that I wanted to produce this photographic work and satisfy my curiosity.
Then comes the question, « Why envisage a book of photographs about a primary school ? »
For at least two reasons... About fifteen years ago, at the start, as a way of encouraging me, my wife gave me a book by Robert Doisneau, « The Ink-stained Fingers ». Glancing through it, I promised myself that one day I would produce a book treating the subject from a totally different angle, allowing each reader to remember those carefree moments in life. Still today, I find great pleasure in re-reading this work, these photos illustrating school and the values of an epoch gone by. If my first reason reveals a character largely artistic, the second reveals a more concerned approach. I regularly heard via the media of certain modifications of law meant to improve the precedent etc. but to be honest at this time I didn’t worry myself too much with educational reforms. However statistics concerning the failure of education in primary schools roused my curiosity. In a report from the « High Council of Education » published in 2007 by « L’institut Montaigne » pointing out the mechanisms responsible for this default, I read :
I asked myself how effective were the teaching methods and the means actually invested in the primary school cycle of infants and juniors. Are they adapted to the needs of the children and do they provide a basis for their future ? In each discussion the notion of time was raised and the conclusion was irrefutable at all levels of learning. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote as early as the 18th century : « the most important, the most useful rule in all education is not to gain time but to lose it ». Quite a programme in our modern society !
At the moment my son Alexander, 18 years, is starting his first year in law at university, His brother Nicolas has chosen an apprenticeship. If I refer to national statistics the two of them belong in the 60% of students who have achieved acceptable or satisfactory results. As a father I am happy with their choice of studies. As a citizen, I remain puzzled by the what the future holds and what work can be available for the 40% of people who have failed at school.
Maîtresse... Au coeur de l’école primaire, is a book for all generations, it follows the main events of a school year. Its aim is to highlight the every day life of young children but also to revive the nostalgia of the time we ourselves spent in primary school : moving glances, carefree looks, mischief at playtime, concentration in class. Together with these children the reader will visit the Museum of Writing at Figeac, the Museum of Toulouse-Lautrec at Albi, the Fenaille Museum in Rodez and also Pech Merle with its ancient cave-paintings at Cabreret. Our distant memories make this journey more poignant.